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Tuesday, 9 October 1973
Page: 1736

Mr RIORDAN (Phillip) - I am sure that all who have heard this debate so far will feel a sense of disgust and shame at some of the cheap political gimmickry which has come from the other side of the House and the cheap gratuitous insults which have been offered at a time when the people of New South Wales are suffering considerable hardship and the economy of this country is suffering because of a severe industrial dispute. I invite the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch), who is trying to interject, to dispute what I am saying. There has been no dispute in this country's history which has been resolved by the exchange of gratuitous insults. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) know from their own experience that what I say is true. This country is presently confronted with a serious situation. Do we have a constructive suggestion from members of the Opposition? Do they come forward like responsible members of Parliament? No, they come forward with a mixture of cheap political gimmickry and cheap second rate name calling which is the best that the previous speaker, the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fairbairn), could put forward.

What is behind this motion of censure against the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) because he refused to extend and further involve this country in a severe and critical industrial dispute? First of all one must wonder why the motion was moved by the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser). One might perhaps wonder whether this is not tied up with the internecine bitter struggle which is going on on the other side of the House about who is to be the Leader of the Opposition before the next election? One might think that it is part of some kind of cynical plan which seems to be emerging in New South Wales to take the heat off a bankrupt Premier who has no answer to the problems of the State and is attempting to manufacture problems so that he can divert interest from his own inadequacy. This is the position with which we are confronted. I want to say to members of the LiberalCountry Party clique on the opposite side that this dispute will be resolved whether they like it or not. No matter how hard they might try for their own cynical purposes to continue it and to perpetuate the suffering and hardship they will fail because at this stage there are too many people concerned to try to find a solution.

Members of the Opposition have said nothing. This is like their counterparts in New South Wales. They are prepared, knowing the futility of their action, to say it is desirable that there should be a complete standoff between the parties to the dispute. They come here today to try to exacerbate that situation. The New South Wales Government is guilty of serious dereliction of duty. I am sure that the people of that State will cast proper judgment in due course. They, and members of the Opposition in this House, have trespassed against the public interest. What are the facts. The simple facts are that the New South Wales Minister for Mines, Mr Fife - not strife as the name is sometimes being mispronounced - last week confirmed in the New South Wales Parliament that what the Minister for Minerals and Energy has told this Parliament is exactly correct. He has done that.

Mr Fairbairn - He did not tell us till this morning.

Mr RIORDAN - The honourable member is not up with the news. He is a bit out of touch. I know that half the Liberal Party does not talk to the other part, but perhaps he might be able to obtain a copy of the New South Wales Hansard from the Parliamentary Library and see that what I am saying is correct. It is reported for all to see. Yet, members of the Liberal Party in this Parliament, aided and abetted by the Country Party-Democratic Labor Party group, come along here to attack the Minister for the sole purpose of trying to divert attention from a solution of this dispute. It does no credit to any member of this House-

Mr Giles - Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. I seek your ruling. I did not think this debate was about the subject that the honourable member is discussing. The debate is about whether the Minister for Minerals and Energy has misled the House.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! No point of order is involved. The motion has to do with the power dispute in New South Wales. What the honourable member for Phillip is saying is completely relevant.

Mr RIORDAN - I can understand the apprehension of the honourable member for Angas (Mr Giles). The only responsible suggestion in the last week aimed at solving the dispute came from the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam).

Mr Hunt - What rot.

Mr RIORDAN - That is the most unintelligent remark I have heard the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt) make. The Minister for Minerals and Energy is under attack in this Parliament today because he said that the Australian Government will not allow itself to be put in a position where it may create a dispute which could perhaps black out all of New South Wales and half of Victoria. That is what the Opposition wants. The Opposition sought to set the Minister up in a cynical and callous manner, without regard to the public interest, in order to try to gain a miserable, cheap political objective, lt does no credit to the Opposition.

Mr Giles - Mr Speaker. I take that personally. I do not see why-

Mr SPEAKER -Order! No point of order is involved because there was no personal reflection on any honourable member.

Mr RIORDAN - The Minister simply said that 2 considerations were involved. One con sideration relates to irrigation and the other relates to power generation. He acted wisely in respect of both. In regard to the first matter, irrigation, I accept the advice of experts that it was a wise decision. As for the second matter, 1 need no advice. I know very well that what would have occurred is simply this: The Minister would have been asked or expected to take an action which would have caused a strike. Presumably at that stage - because the fighting would have been in the Minister's territory and not that of the New South Wales Government - the New South Wales professional engineers would have been told to do the work of the striking men who normally generate the power. That is what would have happened. Others in Victoria, probably under the influence of Liberal Party collusion, would have been told to do the same. This would have caused the most extraordinary situation in the industrial annals of this country. For the first time ever we would have had a situation in which men sent in to break a strike would have been enjoying the conditions which the men on strike were trying to obtain. These are facts. The strike breakers would have been working a 35-hour-week - as they are - and those out on strike would be refusing to work because they could not get a 35-hour week. That sort of logic might be all right in the councils of the Liberal Party, it might suit the comedian who is the temporary Premier of New South Wales, but it does not suit a responsible Australian Minister who has obligations to the Australian people and who takes them seriously. That, of course, is the big difference.

The Prime Minister, seeing that the 2 parties were separated widely, made a generous offer to make available an independent judge, a member of the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, with a view to getting the parties to confer again - not to review the decision of the New South Wales Industrial Commission, not to form a de facto court of appeal, but to try to get negotiations started again. What response did he get from the Premier of New South Wales? He rubbished it. He treated it with contempt. He ridiculed the suggestion. He acted like a man in panic. He acted like a man who did not want a settlement of a dispute. This leads me to the belief that there must be people high in the Liberal Party who do not want this dispute resolved. Every single action that they take is designed to continue and to extend that dispute. They would be very happy indeed if they could kid the Australian Government into a position where it would fight it out and where the New South Wales Government would, as it were, stand back - I suppose with more wisecracks - while the people of New South Wales and also Victoria suffered because of this cheap political cynicism.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - They do not care how much loss they impose upon industry to get it.

Mr RIORDAN - As the Minister for Labour points out, the losses to industry today are enormous. The increases in costs are enormous. The fact that a reduction has occurred in the production of urgently needed supplies of goods and services is a serious matter. But does the Opposition care? Do Opposition members go to their Liberal colleagues and say: 'Why not give the Prime Minister's suggestion a fair chance?' What have they to lose and what has any party to this dispute to lose from a further discussion and a further conference?

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The Liberals will lose power.

Mr RIORDAN - I thank the Minister. Only men who are frightened of the emergence of the facts and only those who are scared to justify their position are the ones who refuse to discuss and to negotiate in these matters.

There are some unsatisfactory features in this strike. Nobody on this side of the Parliament is happy with the present situation. We are very concerned. But the Prime Minister has made a constructive suggestion. It is up to the Liberals and to their colleagues in New South Wales to respond in a sensible and responsible manner, if that is within their capacity. Let us not forget this: The Askin Government in New South Wales more than 2i years ago granted the 35-hour week to 35 per cent of the employees of the Electricity Commission of New South Wales. The same Askin Government which today says to the Australian Government: 'When you grant the 35-hour week to your public servants, we will have a different attitude; we will have to reconsider our position', 2i years ago gave the 35-hour week to public servants in New South Wales. Of course that was just before an election, and it was a promise; I suppose that that makes some difference to the matter.

The Premier of New South Wales is attempting to act in a quite irresponsible way. His colleagues in this House are attempting to coerce the Government into a similar situation.

The people of New South Wales are suffering while the New South Wales Government and the State Industrial Commission pass the buck backwards and forwards. Let me say this to the honourable member for Wannon: There has not been an umpire's decision, to use his quaint but quite inaccurate term. There has been no arbitration about a dispute. The New South Wales Industrial Commission was asked to inquire into the question of working hours and to make a report to the Government. It has no power in its own right to grant the claim. It does not have the power to grant working hours less than 40 hours. It is not like the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission which, if it wishes, can order a 20- hour week.

But we hear served up this nonsense and garbage that if a 35-hour week is granted to some employees it must spread to everybody else in industry. Did that stop the Askin Government from awarding a 35-hour week to its own public servants to get an advantage? Certainly not. What has been the history in the Federal sphere for instance in the stevedoring industry, in the container packing industry and in the coal mining industry? Those are 3 industries which by a combination of agreement in some cases and arbitration others have been awarded a 35-hour week. What has been the result? There has been no flow-on of that decision - no flow-on at all. I say to honourable members opposite who are trying to interject that when they know what they are talking about they should then speak. There has been no flow-on. There has been no - I emphasise the word 'no' - loss in productivity. In fact in some industries there has been an increase in productivity. This is a time when members of this Parliament ought to be acting responsibly and ought to put the national interest before their own personal and party political considerations.

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